Free Software University

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Marrying technology, innovation, and this curious Internet thing of giving stuff away for free, consultant and Cong-base Englishman, Lloyd Hardy, is hoping to kick start an online learning revolution.

Hardy proposes to deliver university courses for free over the internet using an “open source” model. Open source has revolutionised the delivery of technology since the late 1990s. Famous examples include the Linux operating system, the Firefox browser, the Apache web server and the OpenOffice suite. These and thousands of other products are available at the equally famous price of zero euro.

“My idea is that would-be students who, for a variety of reasons are unable to learn in the traditional way are able to access tuition from graduates working in industry in a structured learning environment in a virtual classroom,” said Hardy of the Free Software University (FSU). Course delivery will suit different learning styles since it will come in video, written and audio formats.

An IT Consultant, Hardy said the initial focus would be on technical courses. “I want to see short, one- or two-hour coursewares right up to long-term research groups in fields such as Artificial Intelligence. We may even be lucky enough to be able to share our work directly with educational institutions around the world,” he said.

Hardy said FSU aims to “deliver free education to students in a sustainable environment without financial cost or the need for donations.” He has already rustled up “around 100 students, teachers, graduates, mentors and industry partners” and hopes to have the first modules online in the next few months. These will probably be web-development courses.

Tutors include new users “right up to published authors and software development companies,” he said. “There are some really talented people in our group.”

“The means by which we ‘afford’ such qualified tuition is by ‘industry partnering’, where any company who would like to interact as closely as possible to a body of researchers can become involved. The company benefits by having access to new technologies and by having students work on their real-world projects, which gives students rich working environment experience,” said Hardy.

Although he is based in Ireland, Hardy said the FSU is open from people from “Athens to Zanzibar” and he prefers to think of the university as being “based online.”

Licensing will fall under the Affero General Public License (AGPL). GPLs require that derived work be available under the same license terms. In practical terms, this means that a software developer, for example, will write a programme and make it available. Others are free to review and improve upon his work, but the new and improved code must be made available, too.

“The one thing we need to do in this ideology is to protect the innovation of students from abuse. The AGPL allows us to do that,” said Hardy. “In this way, we hope to better ourselves – as a band of learners and to provide a fertile environment for the latest innovation,” he added.

In terms of qualifications, none are available now. “It’s up to us to show the boards that award accreditation around the world that we are up to standard. It will probably be harder than most, as we’re entirely virtual – but that doesn’t mean impossible,” Hardy said. For now, students will have to sit third-party certification tests or earn college credit through systems such as the American College Level Examination Program (CLEP).

“There are no barriers to involvement in education really. If you really want to make a change, you can – it will be whatever you make it,” Hardy said.

Contact details are available at

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Married with two kids, I am an IT professional with a strong interest in innovation, management, and technology—especially web development. I follow politics and economics when I want to annoy myself. I am also quite fond of the Irish language and culture.


Why not create content under the already established (and growing) framework of or another "open university" that's gaining traction and audience? It might make more sense for Hardy to develop or co-develop a course and attract 1000s of students (as the Wordpress Development course for just did) than to go it alone under a brand new title/organization.

In 2008 we started an online study programme about Free Software at master level, the Free Technology Academy.

The interesting thing is that it is recognised by partner universities, all books are published openly and under free licenses, and people are taking courses guided by university teachers in the virtual campus. Apart from that, people and organisations willing to contribute are very welcome (and we did extend this invitation to Lloyd Hardy as well, hopefully he's going to use it in the FSU).

Note as well our plans to extend the FTA programme in a full master programme. The idea we have developed with 10+ universities is to define a common framework that universities can use to set up their own master programme on Free Technology.

In short, we propose to do this together. Interested? Feel welcome to join. You might as well check out the regular announcements (subscribe: and the fta group at

Why is the content licensed under a code license? AGPL wasn't designed for things like courses, that's what Creative Commons is for...

The site <em>code</em> should be AGPL, but the content shouldn't....

FSU sounds like a great idea, especially for someone who isn't getting what he needs in his university right now

ryan's right, agpl doesn't make (any) sense for OER materials, and it's not a good license for websites.

agpl is good for **software** that runs on servers. there are probably better (read: saner) licenses for most other purposes.

Hi All,

The first FSC course commences on the 2nd May 2011 - super exciting!

Note (as outlined at the AGPL is not used for _course_ material - and it doesn't say that in the article. The GFDL is used for course material. The AGPL will be used for project work on courses at the FSU... for actual code, eg. in a PHP certificate class. Also, most (read: all) software can be run on a server - so the AGPL is a very valuable license :)

Hi again, Wouter! We've used a lot of FTA work in our material on the history of the FSF and the GNU project in our week 2 lecture for the FSC.. thanks for that... will feedback any new materials as the course progresses :)

Thanks for your feedback. If anyone would like to learn more about Free Software Licensing, please come along to study the FSC... that way you can always be sure to get the right license for the right project! :D

Hi Joseph,

We are using the GFDL, so naturally we are not going it alone. It think it is very important that we are the 'Free Software University' as it's own entity - as we specifically deal with 'Free Software' - not 'Open Source' software (which refers to the method of development, not the freedom under which it is licensed). A main part of the FSC encourages discussion to understand the difference between the term 'Free Software' and 'Open Source'.. how the former also address the platform and not just the releasing of source code (it's freedom - eg. 'Free but Trapped'). Super interesting and exciting!

Thanks all for your comments - HTH,

Thank to John for a great article - well done :)

Yous kindly,


I believe the idea would be more credible if they used a piece of technology that has ben out for 15 years: SPELLCHECK

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